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Harrison twins’ improvement has been pivotal for No. 8 Kentucky

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When the calendar flipped to the month of March, the Kentucky Wildcats looked nothing like a team that just over a month later would be making final preparations for a game in the Final Four. The Wildcats would lose 72-67 at South Carolina on March 1, a game that fell in the middle of a regular season-ending stretch of three losses in four game. One of the issues late was the play of freshman guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison, with both struggling with their shot and understanding of what head coach John Calipari expected of them within the system.

During those four games Aaron shot 11-for-43 (25.6%) from the field and Andrew wasn’t much better at 11-for-38 (28.9%). And at that point in the season there were also signs that the twins were allowing the poor shooting to impact other areas of their game, which given their positions as the leaders in the backcourt can affect the team as a whole.

Was that rough stretch for Kentucky entirely their doing? No. But it should come as no coincidence that with the Harrison twins playing better basketball, Kentucky has stepped forward as a team.

RELATED: No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky preview 

In seven postseason games Aaron, who hit big shots in wins over No. 4 Louisville and No. 2 Michigan last week, has shot 46.3% from the field and 50% (22-for-44) from beyond the arc. He’s taken better shots for much of this seven-game run, with Kentucky’s lone defeat coming in the SEC title game, and having that kind of perimeter shooting helps with the spacing of Kentucky’s offense. Driving lanes become somewhat easier to navigate, and the big men have more room to operate inside when defenses are forced to remain honest.

As for Andrew, his improvement hasn’t been so much about shooting as it has been distributing the basketball. In Kentucky’s final four regular season games he averaged 3.8 assists per game. In postseason play that figure is up to 5.7 assists per contest, which is nearly two assists per game more than his average on the season (3.9). Have there been hiccups along the way? Yes, as noted by the 12 turnovers committed in wins over Kansas State and Wichita State. But he bounced back in Indianapolis, committing a total of six turnovers in Kentucky’s wins over Louisville (two) and Michigan (four).

So what’s the difference been? In Monday’s coaches teleconference Calipari discussed their improved body language, but he also blamed himself for the twins not fully understanding what their respective roles were.

“We had to define the roles better, and I did a poor job of that until late in the year, by the end of the year,” Calipari said. “I can’t believe it. I was angry when I realized what I had done. I coached all different kinds of point guards. We had to get Derrick Rose to shoot more. We had to get Tyreke [Evans] and Brandon Knight to shoot less.

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“We had fast point guards, point guards that weren’t as fast. John Wall, Eric Bledsoe that played the combo. It just bothered me as a coach. That’s my job. Their job is to play. My job is to help define their roles, to bring them together, to get them to understand. I’m happy it was done; I just wish I had done it earlier.”

That may not seem like much to some, with the general response likely being “they’re McDonald’s All-Americans and projected lottery picks, so they should be able to figure it out.” But that isn’t how the game works, especially at the level Kentucky and any other team that aspires to win a national title competes at on a daily basis. Kentucky has multiple weapons capable of putting points on the board, with James Young on the wing and Julius Randle being an incredibly difficult matchup inside due in part to his ability to attack off the dribble.

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But if this team was to turn things around and make good on the preseason prognostications that they’d win Kentucky’s ninth national title, better play was needed from the backcourt. That’s been the case over the last month, with the Harrisons’ improved understanding of their individual roles and how they fit into what the team was looking to accomplish being a key factor. And if that continues to be the case, two more wins are well within Kentucky’s reach.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”

Louisville president issues statement supporting AD Tom Jurich

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With it being reported earlier Wednesday that one-time Louisville commit JaQuan Lyle “confirmed the gist” of what was written about him in the new book “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” things have gotten even more serious for Rick Pitino’s program than anticipated when allegations of former staffer Andre McGee procuring prostitutes for players and recruits began to surface on Friday.

On Friday both Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich stated that they had no knowledge of the activities alleged by Katina Powell taking place (Powell stated that Pitino did know). But even if this is true, in the case of Pitino having NCAA rules violations occur while in charge of a program can lead to penalties even if there is no knowledge of wrongdoing.

Wednesday afternoon Louisville president James Ramsey issued a three-paragraph statement on the current investigation of the basketball program. But while he was clear in stating his support for Jurich during this period, no such statement was made when it came to Pitino. Below is the full statement.

“As was stated last week, when we learned of the allegations toward our men’s basketball team, we immediately hired Chuck Smrt of the Compliance Group to undertake a complete and thorough investigation of the alleged misconduct. Chuck advised us that we should also report these allegations to the NCAA so they could join our investigation.

“For the past 18 years, Tom Jurich has served as athletic director of an exemplary program at UofL. I fully support Tom as we work to identify the facts in this situation, and that is what we are doing. Tom and I are committed to the values that are fundamental to the success of Cardinal athletics.

“As I stated in the recent State of the University address, it is important that the university — all of us — stay focused on our day-to-day work of providing our outstanding students with a world-class education. The investigation of the allegations may take time and we must, as one university, continue doing the work we do to move our university and our community forward.”

Jurich has accomplished a great deal while serving as the school’s athletic director, and his work across all sports is arguably the biggest reason why Louisville finds itself in the ACC today. While showing confidence in his athletic director, Ramsey also appears to distance higher ups from what is alleged to have happened within the basketball program should the NCAA find enough evidence to levy sanctions.

Could that ultimately lead to the school parting ways with its head coach? It’s far too early to answer that question, but this statement gives Louisville some room to do so should the deem that to be the best course of action.

h/t CBS Sports